Johns Creek talks race, sexual harassment and police misconduct

A June protest organized by students in Johns Creek over the recent Minniapolis police killing of George Floyd, is held at the intersection of Medlock Bridge Road and State Bridge Road. Since then, many in the Johns Creek community have been upset over negative comments made by the police chief on the Black Lives Matter movement. City officials held a community forum on police and race on July 9. JOHN AMIS FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
A June protest organized by students in Johns Creek over the recent Minniapolis police killing of George Floyd, is held at the intersection of Medlock Bridge Road and State Bridge Road. Since then, many in the Johns Creek community have been upset over negative comments made by the police chief on the Black Lives Matter movement. City officials held a community forum on police and race on July 9. JOHN AMIS FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: John Amis

Credit: John Amis

During a forum on police and race relations, Johns Creek city officials acknowledged that the police chief is being investigated for sexual harassment allegations.

In a frank discussion held Thursday at Johns Creek High School, participants called on the city to rebuild trust in the community following a controversial social media post by Police Chief Chris Byers, who in June made negative comments about Black Lives Matter. He has since been removed from duty.

The investigation being conducted into Byers concerns separate sexual harassment allegations according to City Manager Ed Densmore. He has not publicly revealed any details on those allegations, but the investigation is due to be completed this month.

Johns Creek officials billed the discussion as a “listen session” with the community intended to be part of a healing process following the chief’s comments on race.

Mayor Mike Bodker and police officials at the session appeared to welcome the idea of a citizens advisory board for the department as audience members asked for accountability and transparency in police hiring, training and actions.

Thursday’s event was limited to 50 people due to the coronavirus pandemic. More than 100 watched on a Facebook live stream. The evening had sound problems from gym acoustics and commenters speaking unclearly through face masks. As the sound improved, officials heard first-hand accounts of police intimidation and fearful experiences, including facilitator Karyn Greer.

The CBS46 anchor commented that Black parents must talk with their children about interactions with the police. After her son was stopped by police in Cobb County, Greer said she told him, “’You need to be respectful and do what the officers tell you because any turn (of your body) can be deadly.”

Johns Creek resident Angie Ayers Jones, a Fulton County deputy registrar, recalled working at a voting booth during the International Festival in 2018 when an officer started a conversation with her and two other women. She said the officer disparaged Black people to the women, who are white, and repeated the phrase “those people” while remarking on his days working in Atlanta.

Jones said the women filed a complaint with Johns Creek Police a couple of days later but the three women were not confident that the incident was investigated because his commanding officer was skeptical of their complaint.

Jones then addressed Johns Creek officials inside the gym. “I can tell you that that officer doesn’t see the people in front of him as individuals,” she said. “He sees them as Black and as white.”

Bodker assured Jones that he would follow-up on the complaint that the women filed.

“If you have concerns that have been raised, please give us an opportunity to address it,” Bodker said to the crowd. “So we can prove to you that we are worthy of the opportunity to fix our own problems.”

Major John Clifton encouraged the citizen advisory board to help build trust in the community. “We want to get a feeling from every group in Johns Creek,” he said, adding that he also recognized the need to hire more police officers of color.

Clifton asked residents to reach out to the police department to help strengthen a connection and offered his email address: john.clifton@johnscreekga.gov.

Prior to the forum discussion, Johns Creek held private discussion groups in the community including Delta Sigma Theta Sorority members. Johns Creek spokeswoman Edie Damann said the city is open to more public conversation events on race if the citizens want it.